Toxic tarpaulins

THE OFFICIAL campaign period for senatorial aspirants and party list groups started on Feb. 12. We thus expect the mushrooming of plastic vinyl tarpaulins as campaign materials.

But here’s the thing: The mass production of tarpaulin banners and posters for the midterm election campaign will surely add to the plastic pollution that our country is wrestling with.

Worse, this is not a simple solid waste issue. Tarpaulins as popular campaign materials may be laden with toxic chemicals such as cadmium that may negatively impact on our people’s health and the environment.

Cadmium is a heavy metal with a high toxicity and  is used as plastic colorant and/or stabilizer. It is listed by the World Health Organization (WHO) among the “10 chemicals of major public health concern” along with arsenic, asbestos, dioxins, lead, mercury and other highly hazardous substances.

Cadmium and its compounds are also included in the expanding list of priority chemicals that the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) “has determined to potentially pose unreasonable risk to public health, workplace and the environment.”

Cadmium, according to the WHO, exerts toxic effects on the renal, skeletal and respiratory systems, and is classified as a human carcinogen.

After the campaign, the used tarps will be removed and buried in landfills where cadmium and other chemical additives may be discharged as the dumped materials break down.  Some of these tarps may even end up being burned, a process that will cause the formation and release of dangerous byproducts of combustion called dioxins.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, “products containing cadmium are not typically collected separately from the general waste stream in developing countries. Therefore cadmium discards will end up in municipal waste and disposed of in landfills, incineration, open burning or indiscriminate dumping.”

Some of the cadmium in these products will be released to the environment, the extent of which depends on disposal method, control technologies applied and other factors.

Here’s a sensible advice to poll candidates: avoid immoderate use of plastic vinyl tarpaulins.

And in the absence of a clear-cut regulation banning or restricting cadmium in plastics, including tarpaulins, all poll candidates must adhere to the Comelec rules on lawful campaign propaganda, keep materials within proper limits, and ensure that such materials are removed promptly after the polls for environmentally-sound management.


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